In the early period of his poetic career, Stéphane Mallarmé derived much of his use of imagery from the example of Charles Baudelaire’s verse. His homage to Baudelaire, however, written near the end of Mallarmé’s life, while still retaining the sonnet form and a few images that may have been found in the earlier style, attains a complexity of expression much beyond it.
The traditional Petrarchan sonnet is part of a loosely related sequence of poems honoring, also, Edgar Allan Poe, Paul Verlaine, and Richard Wagner. Each sonnet uses the image of a tombstone or other object that, along with the sonnet itself, will form an enduring monument to the man it honors.
In “The Tomb of Charles Baudelaire,” the initial image is not that of the tomb but of the dead poet himself. The “buried temple” must be that of Baudelaire’s body, which, though already buried in the Montparnasse cemetery, still has mud and rubies issuing from its mouth, a reference to both the filth and the beauty contained in Baudelaire’s poetic utterances. The analogy with the “idol Anubis” further underlines the theme of burial in that the Egyptian jackal-god was said to preside over tombs.
In the second quatrain, the imagery changes entirely. Multiple details suggest the presence of a prostitute in the street, although the woman is never specifically named in the poem. This technique of suggestion, common in Mallarmé’s work, evokes the woman...
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